Feds agree to new deadline for Fairbanks air cleanup plan

  • By Dan Joling
  • Thursday, January 5, 2017 9:04pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE — The Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to an August deadline on whether to accept or reject a state plan to clean up heavily polluted Fairbanks air.

The agreement settles the first of two lawsuits filed against the agency by a pair of advocacy groups, Citizens for Clean Air and the Sierra Club, aimed at forcing the EPA enforce deadlines for a state cleanup of fine particulate, a pollutant that can cause heart attacks, decreased lung function and premature death.

Pamela Miller, director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, said in a statement she was pleased that the court will enforce the deadlines.

“We hope that this consent decree results soon in real action on the ground to address the public health crisis that the people of Fairbanks are suffering as a consequence of the polluted air,” she said.

An EPA decision on the state plan was due nearly a year ago on Feb. 18. Meeting the deadline was complicated by the complexity of the issue and a national lawsuit challenging how EPA regulated fine particulate, said Tim Hamlin, EPA Region 10 director of the office of air and waste.

The EPA has agreed to propose to accept or reject a state cleanup plan by Jan. 19. After a comment period, the EPA must take final action by Aug. 28.

Kenta Tsuda, an attorney for the environmental law firm Earthjustice, who is representing the plaintiffs, said his clients believe the cleanup plan is flawed and should be revised. The state plan, for example, rejected a ban on the sale of green firewood, which when burned emits more particulate than seasoned wood.

Fine particulate is a mix of solid particles and liquid droplets that can be inhaled deep in the lungs.

In November 2009, the EPA designated the Fairbanks North Star Borough an area of “moderate” non-attainment. The agency was required to review progress after six years, and if problems lingered, consider reclassification of Fairbanks to a “serious” non-attainment area.

That reclassification review was due at the end of June, and when the EPA missed that deadline, the same two groups filed a second lawsuit. A reclassification as a “serious” non-attainment area would mean tougher provisions to clean up Fairbanks air.

Hamlin said the agency is moving toward reclassifying Fairbanks to a “serious” non-attainment area.

The air pollution around Fairbanks is brought on by extreme cold and geography. Hills surrounding Fairbanks create a bowl effect. In a meteorological phenomenon known as an inversion, cold air along the ground can be capped by a layer of warmer air, trapping emissions.

Wood- and coal-burning stoves, vehicles and coal-fired power plants emit particulate. Some Fairbanks residents burn wood as a cheaper alternative to expensive oil.

The sources contribute to fine particulate levels that at times spike to the highest levels in the nation and regularly exceed federal limits.

More in News

The Alaska State Capitol is seen on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Legislature modernizes 40-year-old definition of consent in sexual assault cases

‘Alaska took a gargantuan step forward in updating our laws,’ says deputy attorney general

Project stakeholders cut a ribbon at the Nikiski Shelter of Hope on Friday, May 20, 2022, in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Stakeholders celebrate opening of Nikiski shelter

The shelter officially opened last December

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks with reporters Thursday about the state’s budget at the Alaska State Capitol. Dunleavy said lawmakers had sent a complete budget, and that there was no need for a special session.
Dunleavy: No need for special session

Governor calls budget “complete”

A magnet promoting the Alaska Reads Act released sits atop a stack of Alaskan-authored and Alaska-centric books. Lawmakers passed the Alaska Reads Act on the last day of the legislative session, but several members of the House of Representatives were upset with the bill, and the way it was passed. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
In last-minute move, Legislature passes early reading overhaul

Rural lawmakers push back on Alaska Reads Act

Graduates wait to receive diplomas during Connections Homeschool’s commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Connections honors more than 100 graduates

The home-school program held a ceremony Thursday in Soldotna

Alaska Senate President Peter Micciche, left, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, right, meet with reporters in Micciche’s office in the early morning hours of Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Juneau, Alaska, after the Legislature ended its regular session. Micciche, a Republican, and Begich, a Democrat, discussed their working relationship, as well as well as parts of the session they were either pleased with or disappointed with. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
After House balks at bigger figure, budget OK’d with $3,200 payout per Alaskan

Budget finishes as second-largest in state history by one measure, but Dunleavy could make cuts

Loren Reese, principal at Kenai Alternative High School, gives Oliver Larrow the Mr. Fix It award Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at Kenai Alternative High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Alternative graduates 22, says goodbye to principal

The ceremony included special awards customized for students

Graduates throw their caps into the air at the end of Soldotna High School’s commencement ceremony on Wednesday, May 18, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘We never fell down’

Soldotna High School honors more than 100 graduates

Brandi Harbaugh gives a presentation during a joint work session on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Mill rate decrease, max school funding included in proposed borough budget

The final document is subject to approval by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly

Most Read